Susan J Tweit Blog Feed

Restoration as a Calling

susanjtweit's picture

I've been home a month as of yesterday, a span of time that seems both impossibly short and un-countably long. Short when I think about everything we've gotten done on this house-project, and forever when I realize how familiar it is to be back. 

(Yesterday was also Molly's birthday. Happy Birthday, Sweetie!)

I walk almost the same route to the Post Office every afternoon that I took daily when I lived in Cody thirty-plus years ago, climbing the steep sidewalk up the sagebrush-clothed hillside above my neighborhood, and passing houses whose occupants I can name. (The photo at the top of the post is the view from the top of the hill.) In fact, I live in the same neighborhood I did back then. 

Of course, much has changed in my life and in the town. I am sixty, now, widowed with a "kid" who is an adult; when I left Cody for Laramie and grad school, I was newly divorced and hadn't met either Richard or Molly. Much less moved with them to West Virginia, Washington State, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and then back to Colorado.

I've lived a whole life away from this place: I step-mothered Molly, wrote twelve books and hundreds of articles, essays and stories for magazines and newspapers around the country; I nursed my mother and the love of my life through their deaths in the same year. I finished and sold the house Richard built for us and his studio too, and built a snug house and guest studio of my own.

All of that away from the place that has called me home for as long as I remember. Which may explain why I am so happy here in the midst of a house-project I never imagined taking on, with a yard that needs even more work than the house. 

My bedroom, still in progress... That green spot on the wall is a sample of the color it will be eventually; the floors are in such bad shape they can't be refinished, so they'll be covered with reproduction plank flooring.  

I wake every morning in my bedroom with the unfinished floors and walls that need painting, and am ridiculously happy. I am home, I think. I have found my refuge, one I needed more than I realized. I also have found my calling. 

I need the place itself, the landscape that smells like sagebrush, the views bounded by mountains I know intimately because I have walked their slopes and ridges in the days I did fieldwork here. 

And I need this house, both because its beautiful bones speak to me of care, craftsmanship, and comfort; and because it has been so neglected. The house needs me and my vision (and savings!). The restoration project it represents is something positive I can do when the world is so full of negativity, a way to work forward in a time seemingly stalled by divisiveness and fear. 

Restoration as I am practicing it here is both hard physical work and metaphor. It is also my calling in life, especially now. 

Ripping the horrible and filthy carpet off the basement stairs yesterday morning, for instance, not only satisfied my inner Tool Girl--using that little pry bar to remove that which I cannot restore is amazingly satisfying!--it also gave me the kind of workout that makes my muscles sing and sends me to bed early, to sleep well and long. 

Having my hands on tools and the work of bringing this beautiful but badly treated house back to life satisfies my need to heal, to reweave the fabric of the human community, if just in this small way, in a time when we have split along bitter political/religious/tribal lines.

The work I am doing along with my contractor and his trades-colleagues isn't about red or blue or who voted which way (or didn't vote at all); it's not some kind of litmus test for who is good or who is evil.

It is simply positive work. We find common ground in tools and design, and in working hard and smart, in teasing each other, in sympathizing about kids making bad choices or aging parents slipping away. We ask each other's advice, appreciate the craft we practice, and the drive to do it well.

We talk about mundane stuff and also about more esoteric things, like what it means to be a good, caring person, and how "community" comes from "common" and means remembering that we share our humanity, that we are stronger together.  

I am reminded of the deeper meanings of restoration each time we make the decision about whether some aspect of the house is in good enough shape that it can be fixed up, or it is too far gone and must go, like that truly nasty carpet on the basement stairs.

When I finished removing that carpet and its accumulated grime. I set to pulling out the staples, tacks, and even three-penny nails (who nails down carpet?) that had held it and at least one previous iteration in place.

My trusty nail-pulling pliers, which in a previous life trimmed the hooves on my horses, and served to pry out loose horseshoe nails too...

What I found underneath was a set of well-built if battered wood stairs, which when patched and re-painted, will look inviting (instead of scary) and be sturdy and comfortable underfoot. Not art, but good workmanship. 

Imagine these stairs with the holes filled and a fresh coat of paint that brightens up the space.

To restore is to rebuild (literally as well as figuratively: restore comes from the Latin word that means "to rebuild"); in that rebuilding, we evaluate what we have, save what we can, and start over on what we can't. We work with the now, knowing it's not perfect. 

Sometimes restoration brings welcome surprises, uncovering beauty hidden beneath the surface. As with the handles on the original sunshine-yellow metal cabinets in my vintage kitchen. They are gray, and I assumed until I recently took a closer look that they were metal dulled by 60 years of use. 

Not so: The gray chipped off under my fingernail, revealing bright copper beneath. Oh my!

Last night I surfed the internet, looking for non-toxic ways to remove paint from metal door hardware. On This Old House, I found this one: "Simmer" the hardware overnight in hot, not boiling water, with a tablespoon or two of dish soap.

A handle in the process of simmering away the gray paint... 

Then simply scrape off the paint with a stiff plastic bristle brush (I didn't have a brush, so I used my fingernails), and polish. It worked! 

Two handles cleaned, polished, and reattached. Forty-one more to go... 

It seems to me that what we need right now is a lot more energy aimed at restoration--restoring our lives and communities, and a lot less polarization, anger and fear. What we have is what we have. We can't go back. 

But we can go forward with an aim to restore, to thoughtfully evaluate what we find, and then work hard and smart--together--to save and shine up what we can, and rebuild what we can't. 

We may find beauty we didn't imagine in the doing. We'll surely rediscover our commonality, what unites us as caring human beings, and that is a gift we truly need. 

Can you spot those three copper handles? They match the original copper-clad range hood. 

Blog Tags: 

On the Road & Home Again

susanjtweit's picture


Last Thursday, Red and I hit the road promptly at eight-thirty am, and I envisioned clear roads for the 490-mile drive to Denver, where I was scheduled to speak at ProGreen Expo on Friday and the Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference on Saturday.


The roads were clear, even if for the first hour and a half (photo above), the landscape on either side was distinctly snowy. But by the time I wound through the Wind River Canyon and turned east toward Casper, the snow-pack decreased markedly.



The Wind River Canyon, with its towering cliffs of Paleozoic limestones and dolomites, one of my favorite parts of the drive. 


Only the wind started to blow. For the 90 miles from Shoshoni to Casper, it was mostly a tail-wind. That was good. 


From Casper on, that changed, and the gusts walloping Red grew stronger and stronger. The overhead warning signs on Interstate 25 advised the road was closed to light, high-profile vehicles because of gusts 60+ mph.


I can attest to the "plus" part: as I was exiting at Wheatland to fill Red's gas tank, I watched a semi truck and trailer blow over in a particularly vicious gust, the whole rig toppling slowly onto its side. A highway patrol car stopped right away, so I headed on to the gas station, where I had to hang onto Red's side mirrors to keep from being blown off my feet! 


The gusts continued, and the air temperature continued to climb, until when I finally stopped in Boulder to pick up my cool new retro microwave at Big Chill appliances (more about that later), it was 78 degrees. Quite a change from the 25-degree temperatures as I left Cody that morning. 


The next day, I wandered the trade show at ProGreen, talking to tree farmers, nursery-folk, and vendors of mini-excavators (I got to sit in the cab of one and play with the controls) and arborist's tools (I bought a wicked new pruning saw), among others. (ProGreen is the annual convention of the region's "green industry," landscapers, maintainers of public gardens and golf courses, equipment providers, and nursery folk.)



My talk, "Terroir in Landscaping: Restoring Local Flavor," was in the last group of presentations of the four-day conference, and it was 80 balmy degrees outside, so I wasn't sure I'd get much of an audience. To my surprise, more than 100 people showed up, and they were completely absorbed and attentive through the whole hour. (This column from Houzz explains one facet of terroir as that French word for local flavor applies to landscaping.)


Afterwards, an eager group came up to thank me and ask questions. One guy said, "Best talk of the whole conference! Thank you." Wow! 


Then my friend and fellow plant nerd Erica Holtzinger and I went out to lunch and talked plants and kids and life. After which I went off to do big-city errands, and then braved rush-hour traffic (where do all of those people come from?) to stay with another friend, Connie Holsinger (no relation to Erica, although we have all worked together) of the Habitat Hero Project and Terra Foundation. 


The next day was an all-day immersion in the second annual Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference. I had the honor of welcoming the participants to the sold-out conference and MCing the opening panel, after which I taught a workshop on Design with Natives, ate lunch with a table-full of eager attendees and answered questions, and then served as introducer and time-keeper for another session, and then helped move and re-arrange tables and chairs at the end of the day.



Great job, Jen, Ronda, Amy, Deryn, Jim, Irene, Nick, and Karen!


So if I look a little tired in the photo above of the Conference planning committee, all of us giddy that we pulled off another successful conference, it's not surprising. 


Connie, who also participated in the conference, took me out to dinner at Zucca Restaurant in Louisville that night, and we both ate so much delicious Italian food that we were sorry we hadn't walked there and back. (I was tempted to lick my plate after finishing off a serving of pumpkin ravioli with browned sage butter.) 


The next morning (yesterday!), I was packed and ready to hit the road by seven-thirty. It was damp, chill and cloudy, but I could see blue skies to the north, and Red doesn't care what the weather is like--she's always ready for a road-trip. 


We stopped in Cheyenne at a Home Depot to buy some bath fixtures, LED lightbulbs and other house-renovation supplies, and then drove on. The wind wasn't blowing (much, for southeastern Wyoming), the sun was shining, and I was ready to be home. 


At four pm, I pulled Red into the garage. And then came unloading, including that new retro microwave, which I immediately unboxed and put on its shelf (it's on the right in the photo below), and as I hoped, it provides the perfect aqua counterpoint to my vintage wall oven. 



Officially the coolest kitchen I have ever had... 


And then I walked into the living/dining room and discovered that Sam, the electrician who installed and programmed the amazing  wifi light-switch system that meant we didn't have to rewire the entire house, had also unpacked and installed Sputnik, the retro chandelier I had ordered for the dining room.


Of course, I had to find the LED Edison light-bulbs I had gotten at Home Depot and install them. And then I had to turn Sputnik on and play with the wifi dimming switch for a few minutes.



Sputnik in all his glory...


After I finished unpacking Red, I walked to the Post Office, and when I returned, I found a box from Kerry and Dave Nelson, dear friends and former proprietors of Ploughboy, Salida's late lamented local-food grocery store. I opened it and carefully lifted out a container of spring: bulbs in a beautiful yellow metal pot just the color of my kitchen cabinets. (Those jonquil sprouts are still yellow as well from their time in the box in transit, but they'll green up in a few days.)



There is still an enormous amount of work (and money) required to bring this house back to life: we need to finish updating the electrical systems, re-do some plumbing, replace a few floors, paint all of the walls and ceilings (my office is the only room that is more-or-less finished), tear off the horrible carport that makes the front entry bay a dark tunnel, add insulation throughout, replace some windows, and clean more accumulated grime. Then there's the yard: the snow blanket has melted and I can now see the mess (including the scary half-collapsed garden shed) and mud I will have to deal with come spring. 


No matter. I love this place already. I feel so fortunate to be here watching the evening sky turn pink and listening to the pair of great-horned owls hooting their soft duet from the spruce trees just outside. 


And to have friends and family and colleagues who offer support and kindness from near and far. Bless you all!

Blog Tags: 

Renovation and Human Kindness

susanjtweit's picture

I am writing this from my new desk in my newly painted, trimmed, and book-shelf-lined office. My desk, a sheet of melamine counter material that Jeff, my contractor, cut to fit and trimmed with nice wood edging, is perched it on two clean sawhorses in the window bay with a view of one of the huge old spruce trees in my backyard.

Above me hangs a beautiful boat-with-a-sail sculpture by Salida sculptor B Strawn, half of the renowned Strawn duo (her husband, Mel, is a also a visual artist, and former chair of the DU art department). The colors could have been chosen for this mid-century modern house, but that's just a happy accident--Richard gave me the sculpture for Christmas years ago. 

Keeping ahead of Jeff and his colleagues means I work long days scrubbing and scraping, painting and assembling (or disassembling), making decisions about renovation and ordering materials, plus preparing for two different presentations at two different garden conferences later this week. I fall into bed each night exhausted but deeply happy to be here, and get up and plunge in again. 

We've made a huge amount of progress, mostly the kind that if you don't love house guts as much as I do may not seem impressive, but trust me, it's big stuff, all critical to bringing my terribly neglected home back to health.

I've got a new main electrical panel, so I no longer wake up at night worrying that the rat's nest of wires in the old one will catch fire. And when I want to replace one of the many truly ugly light fixtures the "investors" who owned the house before me added, I actually know which breaker to turn off so I won't electrocute myself in the doing. 

The rat's nest, partly untangled. (Thank you, Sam, of Bucking Horse Electric!)

My office, a bonus room that opens off the master bedroom, which when I first looked at the house might have been described in real-estate-ease as a "fixer-upper" with "great potential," is now clean, sports trim that seals the gaps between the walls and ceiling and at the corners, is painted cheerful lemon-yellow, minty green and a pale aqua (very 50s colors!); and is lined with bookshelves. 

I did the cleaning and part of the painting (and figured out the color scheme, which was the most fun), designed the "desk" and the bookshelves. Jeff did the trim and the building, and his daughter Chantal, who has way more patience than I do, finished painting the office, including doing the ceiling and the baseboard registers. 

The biggest project we've undertaken so far, replacing Igor, my 60-year-old boiler with a new, more efficient boiler plus an inline water-heating system, should be finished by the end of the evening. I hope so, because I've been without heat and hot water for three days and I'm really looking forward to having them again! 

Igor, just before being retired...

The plan for replacing Igor was inspired during the biggest blizzard in what the locals here are all calling the worst winter in decades, before I even bought the house, when my plumber had an appointment one Tuesday night to assess Igor. When he and Jeff got inside with my real estate agent, John Feeley, the place was cold.

John said in his laconic way, "I think we have a problem." And then they heard a Crack! followed by gushing water, as the faucet in the main bathroom broke and began to fountain. Igor had quit and the waterlines had begun to freeze. (The house was vacant.) The guys spent the next two hours draining all the waterlines to save the house.  

My plumber's been designing Igor's replacement system in his head since that night, and this weekend he began the long and thorny job. (It's a whole heck of a lot easier to put a boiler in a new house than to retrofit a modern boiler system in an old one.)

The big job began on Friday, when Jeff rented a rock-drill with a bit the size of a gas pipe to bore a 12-inch hole through the concrete foundation wall between the basement boiler room and the crawl space for the new boiler flue, which had to go that way before going up an inside wall in my bedroom and out the roof. (The old flue wasn't up to code, and as my plumber discovered when he unhooked Igor, it was so clogged with spruce bark and needles and mummified birds and other detritus, it's a wonder Igor worked at all.) 

Jeff in the crawl space, drilling away...

Listening to the whine of the drill from the basement reminded me of days when Richard would be drilling or grinding away, shaping a boulder into a basin in the breezeway between his studio and Terraphilia, the big house. Is it any wonder that I love tools, and design and construction?

Saturday morning bright and early Jeff and the plumber started in on the actual replacement. First they detached Igor, which meant no more heat or hot water until his replacements, Pancho and Lefty (photo below) were in place, plumbed, wired, and attached to the gas line again.

Pancho, the new aqua-blue boiler (positioned below the substantial hole in the foundation wall) and Lefty, the new inline water-heater to be attached to Pancho as the weekend progresses. That's Igor photo-bombing on the far left side of the picture.

Which will be by the time I get this posted, if all goes well. 

After the guys wrestled all 500 pounds of Igor out of the way, and then wrestled both Pancho and Lefty down the basement stairs and into the boiler room, Dave worked on designing the plumbing while Jeff worked on a path up through the house and attic for the flue (I suggested using the inside wall of my bedroom, which turned out to be the best route). 

Then came the drilling and sawing of holes by Jeff, and the pipe design by the plumber. Getting the flue in place and out the roof (Did I mention a Chinook wind was blowing? That was a blessing in that it was relatively warm, but made erecting the flue chimney challenging) took the better part of the day.

Jeff (left) and Dave (back to the photo) assembling and hanging Pancho's flue in the crawl space. Not fun. 

Out the roof at last! ("There's water leaking down the flue onto the bedroom floor," said Chantal as she carefully painted trim in my office. I relayed the message to her dad on the roof. "It'll quit as soon as I seal the roof," he shouted back. It did.)

Once that was done, my plumber got out his copper pipe and begin cutting and fitting and soldering. That continued until quarter to nine on Saturday night, and all day yesterday, while Chantal finished painting and Jeff installed my office shelves and I worked on a digital presentation. By the end of the day (meaning seven-thirty last night), the copper-pipe sculpture connecting Pancho and Lefty, and the four zones of my heat plus the hot-water-tank was finished. 

The copper-pipe sculpture in progress

This morning, George, the 78-year-old electrician, appeared to do the wiring magic. At dinnertime, my plumber returned to cut and fit gas lines, test the system, check the pressure and install thermostats.

As of right now, I hear a humming in the basement, a happy sound that indicates my radiators will soon be emitting heat, and I'll be able to take a shower tomorrow morning, when the system reached temperature. 

I'm headed for the living room to lounge on my fabulous new couch, which arrived by truck freight this noon. Jeff helped me uncrate it and haul it inside, but I put on the legs myself using the ridiculously too-short hex wrench supplied. 

The house is beginning to warm up, and there's the promise of hot water soon. I'm feeling pretty fortunate. Those simple pleasures remind me to be grateful for what I have. 

Which is a lot. Not the least of my blessings is that I work with people who care enough about the job they do that they stay late and get it done right. We might not agree on everything--I don't know because I don't ask--but I do know that they're kind and caring folks because of how they've treated me, a stranger new to their community.

And that restores my faith in humanity, something we can all use, now and always. 

Blog Tags: 

Home: Restoring Hope Inside and Out

susanjtweit's picture

I am writing this post from the breakfast nook off the vintage kitchen of my new old house in Cody, in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Late-afternoon sun pours in through windows that are gray with at least a decade of grime, but no matter.

Through the door to the living/dining room I can see the shine return to the red-oak floors as they dry from their final coat of Bona Floor Rejuvenate. I have my feet up on one of only four chairs in my house, taking a break from the hard and long work of restoring this very neglected house. 

(Until the moving van arrives, my furniture consists of four vintage maple chairs and a matching table, all of which need refinishing; my Thermarest camping mattress and sleeping bag, which are surprisingly comfortable; plus a couple of packing boxes for side tables.)

My bedroom, in serious need of a new coat of paint and some furniture, but there's art on the walls. (That's a broadside by prinkmater Karla Elling of a quote from Terry Tempest Williams that begins, "I pray to the birds....")

When I look over my shoulder at the kitchen, I can't help but smile. The sunshine yellow steel cabinets, aqua wall oven and copper range hood, all circa 1956, the year the house was built and I was born, are gleaming again, thanks to Susie and Natalia, the cleaning elves who came to help me on Friday.

While I worked on hands and knees with a rag, paint scraper and bucket after bucket of Murphy oil soap and hot water, scrubbing years of grime and splatters off the floors, they carefully cleaned and buffed the kitchen, coaxing back its shine. And what a shine it has! I swear I can feel the house exhaling, happy to be tended again. 

I even scrubbed the tile floor in my new office, preparing it for the arrival of my file cabinets and boxes and boxes of books.

Out in the garage, my contractor, Jeff Durham, has worked magic with a structure that was only partly finished, and that badly. Jeff stripped crumbling drywall, replaced the non-fireproof door to the house, took out a dinosaur of an inoperable gas heater, and carefully rebuilt a cozy space for Red to live.

Red, snug in the garage this evening

Yesterday, I mopped the garage floor so there would be a clean place for the movers to put boxes and bins when the big truck arrives on Tuesday. Then I put the first coat of Bona on the floors, and while it was drying, I took a break and walked up the hill to the Post Office to collect my mail, and then back downtown to join the Cody Women's Rally at City Park. 

Left to right: Spirit and Rattlesnake mountains and Red Butte, from my incredibly scenic walk to the Post Office. 

I wasn't sure to expect at the Rally--Wyoming is a Republican state, and we just elected Liz Cheney (the not-good daughter of that Cheney) as our second US Senator. By the time I got to the park, a rowdy but good-natured crowd of over 450 people had gathered, young to old, many sporting pink pussy caps and carrying signs.

My favorite sign from the rally, both for the design and the message: "A woman's place is in the resistance." 

I stood in warm sunshine with friends Connie and Jay Moody while we listened to speakers reminding us of the value of women's rights, immigrant rights, access to healthcare, and combating global climate change. Between cheering the speakers, Connie and Jay introduced me to their many friends.

My favorite part of the rally was a small moment, one that speaks volumes about the labels and stereotypes we allow to divide us. City Park is right in the center of Cody, fronting the main highway through town. As traffic passed, some drivers cheered the crowd, some yelled insults. I looked up as a semi hauling a load of logs thundered slowly along. 

The young male driver honked, pumped his fists, and then rolled down his window. I thought, "Uh oh!" Then he yelled, "I'm with you!" The crowd cheered. The driver honked his air horn again, a huge smile lighting his face, and drove on.  

On the political maps, Wyoming is marked as a Red State. That doesn't mean that this is a bad place full of hateful people. Our world is more complicated than that. What really matters is not the labels or the divisive politics, it's how we treat each other, the quality of the communities we grow, and how we work together in positive ways to nurture each other, our planet, and its web of lives.

This country is a democracy, not a monarchy. It is up to each of us to take part and set the tone for the America we believe in; the collective impact of our lives and actions is what makes this country great, not the loudest or most hateful voice. 

We can't let the fear and bullying take away our power to do good and be compassionate every single day. We all need to stand up, raise our voices, and be involved in positive ways, wherever we are.

As the log-truck driver reminded me, it's who we are inside that matters, not the labels and stereotypes we apply. There are good, caring, compassionate people everywhere. Let's work together to be the America we all believe in. 

Blessings to you all from the blue-dusk sunset in my snowy Wyoming neighborhood. 

 

Blog Tags: 

Moving in a Contrarian but Positive Direction

susanjtweit's picture

My house looks like a home for wayward boxes. There are boxes everywhere: Boxes form a half-wall between the living room and the kitchen in the "great room," boxes hide under the built-in desk in my office and stack up to the lowermost bookshelves; boxes are tucked under the workbench in the workshop and fill the pantry.

Boxes line the garage shelves, and there are even boxes in the studio. All neatly labeled and numbered to correspond with the inventory sheet I'm keeping so I'll be able to find things once the movers deliver my shipment to Cody in a week or ten days.

(Yes, I am a double Virgo, which means I'm organized. Richard would say "hyper-organized," but he wasn't above admitting that he benefited from my tendency to keep our things in their places and accounted for during our many moves, and at other times.)

The moving van is due to pull up at the curb in front of Creek House sometime on Tuesday, less than two days away. I am as ready as I can be, given everything else I'm juggling, most particularly the innumerable details in keeping two real estate deals moving forward, and now the decisions involved in beginning what will be months of careful house renovation. And when I have any spare brain cells, thinking about the two talks I am scheduled to give at two different garden conferences on two consecutive days in early February...

I have spent most of the last two weeks packing, packing, packing, plus making a three-day trip to Cody with a van-load of things difficult to consign to movers, thanks to my friends Nicole and Harry Hansen, the silversmith and blacksmith who together form Sterling & Steel, makers of fine custom tableware, jewelry, flatware and other functional art. Nicole and Harry not only managed to fit my odd-shaped load in Sylvia, their amazing Mercedes-powered panel van, Harry safely drove us out of the blizzard that was blasting Salida the morning we left, and all the long and wintry drive to Cody and back.

Harry, in ready-for-Wyoming cowboy hat and sunglasses, is reflected in the rear-view mirror. Nicole's beautiful cranberry-colored cowboy hat sits on the dashboard. 

Along the way, we talked about everything from kids and family cultures to politics, art, branding, ethics, geology, and history. Our amazing conversations made the 1,260 miles there and back, and all those hours in the van together go by incredibly quickly. 

While we were in Cody, I closed on my new (old) house, and got my contractor, Jeff Durham, started on the most urgent of the work the house needs. 

It has occurred to me that this move is thoroughly contrarian: Not only am I moving many latitude lines north at a time of life when most folks dream of moving south, I am moving from a new, custom-built-to-my-specifications house into a house built the year I was born (1956). My new-old house was well-designed and custom-built too, but it's sixty years old now, and has been seriously neglected for at least the past decade, and unoccupied for most of the past 16 months. 

I'm also up-sizing when the trend is toward downsizing. I'm moving from two small buildings with a total living space of about 1,300 square feet plus a single-car garage to a 2,400 square-foot house with a two-car garage. (The main floor is 1,700 square feet; the rest is a furnished basement I will use only when I have a house-full of guests.)

And I'm moving from contemporary--I call my Salida place "industrial chic"--to Mid-Century Modern. Check out that vintage kitchen, complete with original sunshine yellow metal cabinets, and aqua wall oven in the photo below.

I'm even up-sizing my yard, moving from a lot of just under 7,000 square feet to one twice that size, and from a basically finished yard (given that to a gardener, no landscape is ever truly finished!) to one needs a radical beauty-enhancing, water-saving, habitat-providing makeover.  

Why? 

The moving north part is simply me heading home to the landscapes and community that have spoken to my heart for decades. I confess to loving snow, even blizzards. And I am fortunate to have friends in Cody who are excited about my return. 

Also, Cody is a whole day's drive closer to my 88-year-old dad and my brother and his family in western Washington, including my nieces and their kids. (Except my middle niece and her family, who are in Germany for another year and a half.) If something happens to Dad, I can take I-90 west to Seattle, and drive there in a long day (or a two-hour plane flight from Billings, Montana). 

Dad is so excited about my move that he's already planning a visit this summer, accompanied by my brother and sister-in-law. He hasn't traveled since after Mom died in 2011, so I'm thrilled. The downside is I'm a bit farther from Molly, in San Francisco, but she's being very gracious about that.

The up-sizing part wasn't my plan. I was looking at small houses, and then I stumbled on this one. One look at the spacious rooms, great light, wood floors, and that fabulous kitchen, and I fell in love. 

The living and dining areas--look at those windows! That fireplace! And the floor.... 

Of course, I also noticed the 60-year boiler that runs the hot-water baseboard (I call it Igor). Igor was top-of-the-line when new, but he's about 20 years past his retirement date. (Which he proved by quitting the weekend before Christmas in the middle of a blizzard--fortunately, my contractor had an appointment to evaluate the house the following Tuesday, and he and my wonderful real estate agent, plus the plumber, walked into the house just as the pipes began breaking. They were able to save the place without too much damage, which I was grateful for. More grateful than the owner, who grumbled about the cost of repairs. Maybe he shouldn't have neglected the house...)

And the wiring, which includes a sub-panel in the basement so old I had never seen one like it, and yes, it has to be replaced. I noticed the lack of insulation in the crawl space under the bedrooms, and the half-bath in the basement, which is so awful it looks like you'd need a tetanus shot before using the shower. And the garage, partly insulated, and partly dry-walled. And a host of other things that need updating. 

So here I go, taking up a house and yard project at sixty (me, the house and the very neglected yard--we're all the same age). Unlike Igor, I'm not ready for retirement. I'm thrilled to be moving home, and excited about bringing my new-old house back to life, and turning a lawn-and-too-many-huge-spruce-trees yard into something more beautiful, sustainable, and healthy for all. 

Mostly, I'm grateful to have a positive project to work on in these negative times. I refuse to succumb to negativity and fear. Perhaps I can't change the state of the nation, but I can serve as an example of how to live with love, compassion and generosity.

I suppose that's contrarian too; regardless, it's me being who I am and doing what I do best: healing this earth and we humans, one house and yard, one creek, one community at a time. Onward!

Chokecherry buds along the creek last spring, on a tree Richard and I planted as a bare-root sapling almost 20 years ago. Treehouse and Creek House are in the background. 

Blog Tags: 

Gratitude: My Word for 2017

susanjtweit's picture

Every year around Winter Solstice, I remind myself of the word I've chosen for the year, consider what it meant and how it was expressed in the way I lived my days, and then ask myself what next year's word will be. Sometimes I hear the answer right away; other times it takes a while. 

For 2016, my word was abundance. Not in the sense of an abundance of stuff or money, or any other material thing: abundance in the sense of plenty, as I wrote in my blog post when the word came to me just after Winter Solstice in 2015:

Abundance as in "plenty": plenty of joy, plenty of time, plenty of ideas and words and readers, plenty of money, plenty of fruitful opportunities, plenty of energy and vigor, plenty of love...

Turns out abundance was a good word for my personal year, if not for the horrors of national and international events. 2016 was a year that brought all sorts of gifts, including a lot of love from family and friends.

Family love: Molly Cabe and me in February; with my brother, Bill Tweit, last month when he and my sister-in-law, Lucy Winter, and my youngest niece, Alice Tweit visited for the holidays.

So as the days grew shorter and Winter Soltice came and went last month, I listened for my word for 2017. And listened, and listened. Because I didn't like the word I heard first: gratitude

Gratitude? Really? 

After that painful election season? With the hatred and divisive politics that have overtaking my small town, the shootings in this country, the violence around the world, the refugees dying as they flee wars in the Mideast and ethnic cleansing in Africa, Burma and other places around the globe, the extinctions of other species? 

What, I thought, is there to be grateful for in these scary and turbulent times? 

Still, each time I listened, the word I heard was gratitude.

I looked up the definition: "the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness." 

Humph. 

The last part of the definition stuck with me though: to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

I think the world needs a whole lot more appreciation, and many tons of "returning kindness." So I adopted gratitude as my word for 2017, and in particular that latter meaning. 

Which, come to think of it, I do every morning (show appreciation) in my yoga and prayer routine. As I complete my asanas, I bow to the four directions, along with earth and sky, in gratitude for this place, and the living community that animates this planet, humans and the myriad of other species with whom our lives are intertwined. 

And then I speak aloud a prayer to the spirit of life, asking that I be able to live my day in love and balance, that I treat others with compassion and kindness, that I am strong but not rigid, that I walk in balance, beauty, and yes, gratitude for this existence. 

As in the view of Venus near the new moon last night...

Gratitude, I realized, the showing of appreciation and returning kindness, is not a Pollyanna sort of attitude. It doesn't preclude being engaged in the world, witnessing and working to alleviate fear, injustice, hunger, poverty of all sorts, or hatred.

It means recognizing the good, small or large, staying open and receptive to that "ocean of Light" that will overcome the ocean of fear and darkness. It means remembering to value what is positive, taking time to respect and acknowledge the blessings each day brings. 

And there are blessings, even when our days are full of pain and sorrow and anger and grief. The sun still rises and sets, snowflakes are still crystalline and beautiful, the ocean still laps or pounds the shore, this planet is still bursting with an abundance of life as dazzling as the stars in the dark night sky. 

We still have friends and family and community; we have work and art and song and dance; we have food and housing and clothes. We are alive, a gift I have learned is very precious indeed.

So yes, gratitude is my word for this new year.

I am grateful for all of you; I am grateful for the home I am leaving, my sweet little complex here in Salida (photo at the top of the post), and the home I am moving to in Wyoming (photo below). I am very grateful for life, both the capital 'L' kind and my quotidian existence.

May 2017 bring each of us much to appreciate, and may it reward our kindness abundantly. Blessings!

Sunset behind Cedar and Rattlesnake mountains just outside Cody, Wyoming

Blog Tags: 

Holiday Treats: Sinful Eggnog and Chile-Spiced Chocolate "Gorp"

susanjtweit's picture

For the winter holidays, I like to spread light and love in the form of hand-created food. In particular, two rich and delicious treats I never make any other time of year.

I reserve these treats for the holidays partly because of the effort involved (that's my big mixer in the photo above, working at top speed to whip 36 egg whites!), and partly because I like the idea of some things being so special that I only make them once a year. Their uniqueness increases the anticipation among the recipients, and also my joy in sharing them.

Since I can't give you these treats, I'm doing the next best thing and sharing the recipes. 

First is my homemade-from-scratch eggnog, famous among my friends and my family. If you've never had real (meaning not store-bought) eggnog, you're in for a treat. (Warning: This eggnog is smooth, but very strong! Drink it responsibly in small doses.)

This hand-thrown porcelain sake cup is the perfect size for sipping this rich eggnog.

Susan's Sinfully Delicious Holiday Eggnog

one dozen eggs (free-range eggs with their orange yolks make prettier 'nog)

1 pound powdered sugar

2 to 3 cups dark rum (if necessary, can substitute brandy or bourbon, but the flavor is different)

1 qt 2% milk

1 qt half 'n half

1 qt heavy cream

Separate eggs, placing yolks in one bowl and whites in another. Cover whites and refrigerate. Beat yolks until creamy. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating slowly. Add two cups of rum (reserving one, if using three), beating constantly. Cover and let stand in refrigerator for at least an hour to eliminate the "eggy" taste. Then add the remaining cup of rum (beating constantly), along with the milk, half 'n half, and the cream. Cover the mix and put it back in the refrigerator overnight (if overnight is not possible, for at least three hours) to mellow the liquor. When the egg mix is ready, beat the whites until they form soft peaks (the peaks barely droop). Fold the whites gently into the egg mix and sprinkle the whole with freshly-grated nutmeg. Serve in a punch bowl with a ladle and small glasses or cups—this is very rich eggnog! A grater with whole nutmegs nearby is a nice touch. (Keeps about two weeks in the refrigerator, but it never lasts that long.)

A large steel bread bowl full of freshly made eggnog, with nutmeg grated on top--yum!

I make the eggnog in batches of three dozen eggs, ending up with  enough to fill Richard's two largest bread bowls. I ladle it into quart and pint-size jars to give away. 

The other treat is the deluxe holiday "gorp" or trail mix I've been making for years. This year's version is definitely the best yet, though I just thought of a small tweak I'll try next year to make it even more addictive... 

Chile-Spiced Holiday “Gorp”

1 cup Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (or another premium kind, 60% chocolate or more)

1 cup Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips (or another premium brand)

2 cups roasted whole pecans (I think organic pecans have the most buttery flavor)

1 cup organic dried sour cherries

1/2 cup organic raisins

1 cup crystallized ginger chunks (I use Reed’s baby ginger)

1 tsp dried red chile powder (I use hot red chile; adjust for your spice tolerance)

Mix ingredients thoroughly in a steel, glass, or glazed bowl (a porous bowl will absorb the chile flavor). Package however you wish; I like to put the mix in pint jars with pretty lids. (A little of this gorp goes a long way, and the chile powder gives a lovely spicy finish that offsets the bit of the ginger and the sweetness of the dried fruit.)

Enough for 3-4 pint jars

May the remainder of your holiday season be full of light and joy, the warmth of love from family and friends, and the goodness of healthy, delicious food. And may you find time to get outside and be awed by the blaze of the stars overhead at night, and refreshed by the beauty and wonder of nature wherever you are. 

Blessings to all!

Blog Tags: 

Winter Solstice and Hope

susanjtweit's picture

Venus, the evening star, is sparkling bright and high in the southern sky this evening as blue dusk ebbs into darkness. We're three days from Winter Solstice, the longest night/shortest day of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, and night falls soon and swiftly after sunset.

Winter Solstice is the year's "hinge," or turning point, when the sun rises and sets at its apparent southernmost spot on the horizon during its annual journey from south to north. 'Apparent' because it's Earth's movement that makes the sun appear to move through our sky.

Regardless of which celestial body is actually moving, the days grow shorter until Winter Solstice, when the sun appears to stick in place. 

(That seeming "stuckness" at both the southward and northward ends of the sun's apparent journey, when it seems to pause at its rising and setting points for a few days, gave rise to the name solstice, which comes from the Latin for "stands still.")

And then, as if impelled by some extraordinary power, the sun gradually begins to move its rising and setting points again, heading northward after Winter Solstice, the days slowly lengthening and the nights ebbing. The darkness that has overtaken the Northern Hemisphere recedes, pushed away by the growing light. 

No wonder that the world's cultures have long celebrated holidays involving light: Solstice, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Yule, the ancient Persian festival of lights... When the darkness seems to close in and stay, we humans naturally hope for a new beginning, a return to spring, light and the rekindling of life. 

Colored lights on a Christmas tree

This year, the darkness of impending winter feels metaphorical as well as literal, and the gloom of world and national events is reinforced by the bitter cold weather that has settled across at least the northern part of the country. 

I find myself burrowing inward, hungry for light of all sorts. The light of inspiration, of generosity, of kindness, of knowledge and understanding. Of cooperation and community.

The light of the kind of hope which inspired Emily Dickinson to write,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - 
That perches in the soul - 
And sings the tune without the words - 
And never stops - at all -

That kind of hope is not a passive longing for some imagined, better future. It's a real force, the voice of life itself, of all the lives--human and moreso--who make up this world. It grows out of our collective drive to flourish, which depends not on passive longing or next quarter's profits, not on ego or self-gratification, but on our ability to contribute to the interwoven and vibrant community of life on this green and blue planet. 

I am hungry for that sort of hope and the light of the soul it brings. And for the literal light too, of longer days, of the sun's warmth, of new growth and green. 

I believe in hope of the kind that perches in the soul and never quits singing. We can forget to listen, we can be overwhelmed by events outside our control that seem to dim that voice. But like the sun, finally, slowly, moving north again to bring longer days, warmth, and spring, the light of the human spirit, of compassion and kindness, of wisdom and generosity will gain strength and return its warmth to our world again. 

As long as we each do what we can to nurture that light. 

Which is why, on Wednesday night, I will light the darkness of my little property the way Richard and I did together for so many years. I will set out lunch-size paper bags along my walk and deck, each filled with a generous scoop of sand for weight and fire-protection, and light a votive candle to place in each. 

And as I light those luminarias and watch their glow spread in the darkness of winter's longest night, I will renew my vow to live in a way that spreads that light in the figurative sense, of understanding and compassion for all beings. I will work to return spring, to restore the earth's green and vibrant communities as I work to restore hope in all who seem stuck in darkness or fear. 

On Wednesday night, I will also carry luminarias to the Salida Steamplant Sculpture Garden, and place them in a circle around "Matriculation," Richard's sculpture there. It will be my last Winter Solstice here in Salida, my last time to light his work this way. 

If you are so moved, join me in spreading the light on Wednesday night. Light a candle, put out a few luminarias, string up colored lights, or whatever.

As those lights glow in the darkness, join me too, in vowing to extend the light. Make this holiday season one of enlightenment and action, of kindness and compassion of all sorts. 

Together, we can light the darkness, and renew the good in the world. 

Matriculation with luminarias as the full moon rose on Winter Solstice in 2013

Blog Tags: 

The Power of Each of Us

susanjtweit's picture

I'm back in Salida after four days and 1,077 miles on the road, this time driving to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to help celebrate the life of Ann Palormo, a dear friend who died suddenly in early November. (That's Ann on the right in the photo above, eating pizza just baked in her neighbors'--the Teich family's--new horno, outdoor oven.)

I wouldn't have undertaken that drive in such a short time, especially after returning from my writing fellowship less than two weeks ago, and being in the maelstrom of details of buying and sell preparing for a move that is (gulp!) now just five weeks away. But Ann's daughters, Cynthia and Melissa, asked if I would speak at the celebration, and Ann was one of those people who gave so much to the community and to me, that I couldn't say no. 

I met Ann, then Development Director of KRWG-FM, public radio, not long after Richard, Molly and I moved to Las Cruces in the summer of 1990.  

Richard and Molly on an evening walk on the irrigation ditch bank near Mesilla, where we first lived outside Las Cruces.

That fall, I followed a longtime dream and proposed writing and reading a weekly five-minute commentary on nature for KRWG. After then-music-director Tom Huizenga (now a music producer and reporter for NPR in DC) decided I was educable, my show, WILDLIVES, went on air. Ann almost immediately recruited me to volunteer to staff the phone bank for the fall pledge drive. 

I'm an introvert. My idea of hell is to spend hours at a time in a noisy room talking on the phone with crowd of people around me cheering and shouting each time someone calls in with a pledge. Yet there I was, doing my part with enthusiasm. 

Because Ann convinced me not only to agree, but to give my best to the effort. 

That's how she was. Ann was smart, thoughtful, passionate about contributing to the community, and extremely persuasive. It's not that she had a glib tongue, she simply couldn't hear the word "no." She waited until your response turned not just to "yes," but an enthusiastic yes. 

Ann worked as a fundraiser and community-builder for New Mexico State University for 26 years, first for the radio station and then for the university Development Office. Outside of work, Ann brought her passion and talents to a wide array of community organizations from the American Association of University Women to El Caldito Soup Kitchen, and from the Habitat for Humanity and Girl Scouts to the Renaissance Fair and Master Gardener Program. 

She was a connector, someone who had a genius for linking people and what they had to offer to the causes that could use those skills and resources. And having fun while doing it. She gave her own time and resources too, volunteering for and donating to many more community organizations than I can remember. 

As I said in my comments at the celebration, what made Ann so inspiring, and the reason all of us were so willing to contribute to the causes she was passionate about, was her belief in the power of individuals to make a positive difference. Ann knew that politicians come and go, and the national pulse tends to swing from extreme to extreme; what's important in the long term is what each of us do in our daily lives.

She lived her belief that our individual, grassroots contributions matter because they form the "common" ground in the word community. She believed we each had something contribute; her role was to nudge us to make good on our contributions, to work together to build a healthy community.

As I made the long drive north again, I resolved that I would honor Ann's life by being the person she believed we each could be: someone who will work in her own way to make the world a better place. It takes each of us, working together, to grow a kinder, more compassionate world.

We each have something this world needs. There's no better time than now to find our cause and be the people Ann knew we could be: committed, caring, funny, and passionate about working for good. 

Thanks for believing in us, Ann. 

(Click on the photo to, as printmaker Sherrie York says, "embiggen" it and read the message on the billboard I see whenever I drive south to New Mexico. That's my cause: restoring this earth and in the doing, we humans too.)

Blog Tags: 

News on Writing, Teaching and Moving

susanjtweit's picture

When I left Santa Fe last Wednesday at the end of my amazingly fruitful fellowship at the Women's International Study Center, I had written 13,400 words, a solid beginning of my new book, The Ditch & The Meadow. (The subtitle--also my elevator pitch--is still evolving, but right now it's How Native Plants and Passionate Plantswomen are Restoring Health to Humanity, Our Communities, and the Earth.)

Thirteen-thousand-plus words in a month may not seem like much for those who took on the NaNoWriMo challenge and wrote a whole novel in November. But I've never been a fast writer, in part because I revise the previous day's work before I inch forward. So these are three fairly polished chapters and part of a fourth, and a table of contents that is actually a pretty good guide for the book to come. 

Of course, that's all the writing I'll likely get done on The Ditch & The Meadow until, oh, about mid-February. Because between now and then I have two real estate deals to finalize (one selling, one buying, both scheduled to close in the first two weeks of January), a household to pack up and move (in late January), a renovation project to get started (which I'll live in for a few months), a couple of columns to write for Houzz, one for Rocky Mountain Gardening, and two presentations to prepare for garden conferences. 

So the new book will have to wait until after I'm moved, settled, and have done the garden-conference thing. 

My tiny and wonderful podcasting microphone, a Raspberry from Blu Microphones, next to a script

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that my first podcast for The Conversation Project in Boulder is up and already drawing an audience. It's a short excerpt from my memoir, Bless the Birds, with lessons for us all about talking about quality-of-life values with the people we love. Give it a listen and let me know what you think! 

I've wanted to get into podcasting for several years, and simply lacked the reason to learn the technology, so this first one got me going. I'm aiming for one a month for The Conversation Project, and I'm also going to start my own podcast series using some of my recent short commentaries, plus new ones I'll write.

I haven't figured out a series name though. It has to be something general enough that the podcasts can range from commentaries on nature to sustainability, and to memoir and the occasional foray into politics. Ideas? Leave them in the comments below. 

I'm also honored to be part of the first webinar-based writing workshop series from WordHarvest, the parent organization of the Tony Hillerman Writing Conference. If you're looking for ways to sharpen your writing craft and your ability to market your work, check out the package here. My webinar, Sculpting Compelling Stories, is a digest of my favorite revising techniques to polish your work from draft to ready to submit, gleaned from my Write & Retreat Workshops. 

You can buy the package or just one webinar, and listen to them as often as you like. They even come with bonus gifts from each workshop presenter. I have to say, I wasn't sure about how well I'd do teaching a workshop to a video camera and no students, but the videographer, Robert Muller (who also shot my wonderful new publicity photos), was a delight to work with, as was Jean Schaumberg, the co-Director of Wordharvest with Anne Hillerman. 

Webinar graphic courtesy of Robert Muller

And on a personal note, as the Northern Hemisphere heads into the cold season of short days and long nights, and the US heads into a political transition that looks dark, I'm more than ever determined to live my values and be part of what Quakers call "the Ocean of Light." I believe in the power of our individual actions in making the world a better place to be. 

Thanks for joining me and spreading that Ocean of Light. Together we can grow positive change. 

Blog Tags: 

Subscribe to Susan J Tweit Blog Feed